Uncertainties in estimating the effect of climate change on 100-year return value for significant wave height

Ewans, Kevin and Jonathan, Philip (2023) Uncertainties in estimating the effect of climate change on 100-year return value for significant wave height. Ocean Engineering, 272. ISSN 0029-8018

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The process of estimating the effect of a changing climate on the severity of future ocean storms is plagued by large uncertainties; for safe design and operation of offshore structures, it is nevertheless important that best possible estimates of climate effects is made given the available data. We explore the variability in estimates of 100-year return value of significant wave height ( H S ), and changes in estimates over a period of time, for output of WAVEWATCH-III models from 7 representative Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) Phase 5 General Circulation Models (GCMs), and the FIO-ESM v2.0 CMIP Phase 6 GCM. Non-stationary extreme value analysis of peaks-over-threshold and block maxima using Bayesian inference provide posterior estimates of return values as a function of time; MATLAB software for the extreme value analysis is provided. Best overall estimates for return values, and changes in return value over the period 1979-2100, are calculated by averaging estimates for individual GCMs. We focus attention on neighbourhoods of locations east of Madagascar and south of Australia where a previous study of CMIP5-derived output reported significant decrease and increase in H S respectively, under Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) scenarios RCP4.5 and RCP8.5. There is large variation between return value estimates from different GCMs, and with longitude and latitude within each neighbourhood for estimates based on samples corresponding to ≤ 165 years of model output; these sources of uncertainty tend to be larger than those due to typical modelling choices (such as choice of threshold for peaks over threshold, or block length for block maxima). However, we also find that careful threshold choice and block length are critical east of Madagascar, because of the presence of a mixed population of storms there. Nevertheless, there is general evidence supporting the trends reported by others, but these findings are conditional on the choice of 8 GCMs being representative of climate evolution. We use simple randomisation testing to identify “significant” departures from steady climate. The long 700-year pre-industrial control (piControl) output of the CMIP6 GCM offers an excellent opportunity to quantify the apparent inherent variability in return value as a function of time, estimated using a subsample of output corresponding to a continuous time interval of between 20 and 160 years in length, where no climate forcing is present. We find large variation in return value estimates of approximately ± 15 % made from samples corresponding to periods of time of around 50 years drawn from piControl data.

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Journal Article
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Ocean Engineering
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14 Feb 2023 15:15
Last Modified:
18 Sep 2023 02:12